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Sophie Picavet, France, Civil Affairs Officer, MINUSTAH

UNV volunteer Sophie Picavet from France works as a Civil Affairs Officer for MINUSTAH in Haiti. "To be a volunteer is to enjoy a light feeling of freedom," she says. (UNV)UNV volunteer Sophie Picavet from France works as a Civil Affairs Officer for MINUSTAH in Haiti. "To be a volunteer is to enjoy a light feeling of freedom," she says. (UNV)
16 September 2008

Port au Prince, Haiti: Thursday, 18:00: The Christopher Hotel [where some of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti headquarters are located] empties slowly. Little by little, a blinding light streams through my office. A thick ink has now covered the glazed door. A discreet humming escapes from the air-conditioning. My eyelids are heavy. They droop. The humming noise sounds louder… CLING! I leave my half-sleep and my email inbox too.

The printer crackles, winding on the first regional reports. Finally. Regional offices in the North, the Grand Anse, the West, and the South too send breaking news to the central Office of Civil Affairs. Counterfeiters are making mischief in Jérémie. Criminals were arrested in the red zones thanks to a combined action by National Police of Haiti (NPH) officers newly promoted by the police academy of Port au Prince, and their hardy Chinese and Congolese counterparts.

According to the Lord Mayor of Ile à Vache Island, drug traffickers continue causing trouble in Trou du Milieu. Silence governs the town hall in Grand Boucan. It has been a long time since staff left the locality, and they did not return to work. But budget control in Apricot municipality is a model of regularity. In Plaine de Cul de Sac, civil affairs officers spiritedly facilitated training on developing budgets for municipalities.

Friday, 07:30: Other reports have arrived. I go over them quickly. Quickly. The survey on the auxiliary police forces in Casec has to be updated before noon.
15:00: I share ice cream with my colleagues.
17:00: Key question of the week. Did all the reports arrive? "Yes!" answer my colleagues as a chorus.

Saturday, 08:00: Little by little, the integrated report of the Civil Affairs Section takes form.
14:00: I make use of my legs again during a walk outside with the Hashers. I am not tired of admiring the thick fog and its halo on the heights of Fort Saint-Jacques.

Sunday: Sleep late. Bugger! The report! Again, the internet is down at home. Has Parliament ratified the nomination of the Prime Minister? Quick, let's go to the Christopher Hotel…

Monday, 06:45: My alarm clock has been ringing for 15 minutes.
07:30: Colleagues describe what they did during the weekend. The day spins away. The report has undergone a facelift.

Tuesday, 10:00: Once again, email is capricious. "You have exceeded the maximum size of storage allocated to your inbox," it says in English. Time presses.

But New York has received the report and, a little less further below the Tropic of Cancer, the report has reached the upper floors of the Christopher Hotel.

16:30: Preparation of the weekly PIOs' [Public Information Officers'] press conference. I am asked to provide the last inputs of Civil Affairs. Hmm… I could speak about budget training in Acul Du Nord. A primary issue, no doubt.

Wednesday, 08:30: Section meeting. In the heat of the moment, the Support Office at the Parliament discusses the last episode of the long ratification process of the Prime Minister’s nomination. The Border Management Unit specifies that the plan of deployment of Uruguayan boats will undergo some adjustments.

Nothing to report from my side. End of meeting.

15:00: Trip to Logistics Base by car in a sooty Nissan patrol car. Russian UN police sitting in a semicircle prepare to listen to my PowerPoint presentation on Civil Affairs. I describe, with slightly exaggerated emphasis, the work of my colleagues in the field. Round trips to communities on bumpy trails in remote areas on Ile de la Tortue Island. Conflict Mediation between local authorities. Launch of the last QIP [Quick Impact Project] for rehabilitating the sanitary facilities of  the Sub-Police Station at Cazeau. Do not laugh. An issue to be taken very seriously. End of induction.

Thursday, 18:00: The Christopher hotel empties slowly…

To be a volunteer is to enjoy a light feeling of freedom, to have left the well-balanced life at the ministry back home. To give less importance to material things. To relieve as much as possible the suffering of other human beings, sufferings I could not have thought of before. To be opened to the richness of people participating in the work of the UN. To laugh about the last Congolese joke. To taste a Creole dish prepared by a National Police colleague.

To set up a new space of life. To accept, little by little, the constraints of living with the mission. To realize that eight months have already passed since that day when I took my well thought-out decision of packing my suitcase.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)